Stop Talking Shop- Enjoying Time with Work Friends Outside Work

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

It’s the people that can make or break a job for someone.

We’re social creatures, and if we must spend a third of our days and half our waking hours in the same place, doing the same (or similar) activities with the same people- especially if that place is cramped, hot, and busy- we prefer either to be around people we like, or left alone.

Working with and around people you like and respect can help you hang on, even in a miserable job- and a great job won’t be enough to keep you around if there’s people making it a living hell.

If you’re lucky enough to have a team of people you like and admire personally as well as professionally, there’s no reason you shouldn’t want to go out and have fun with them! If you do though, it’s best to remember to leave work at work.

Photo by Flickr on

Good Fences Make Good Lifestyles

Today, Em and I went out on a brunch triple-date with two other couples- halves of which work with me at the bakery. We met up at Zoiglhaus Brewing Co for beers and lunch, then went around the corner to Bella’s Italian Bakery for coffee and pastries. We discussed food, of course- our favorite spots in town for sandwiches and cocktails, the ice cream Kira and Ross are making at home, and I may have waxed a bit poetic about the glories of an East Coast Italian sub. (The secret is the roll.)

And yet, except for a few sentences toward the end of the date when we were all saying goodbye, no one discussed work.

One of the most important elements of maintaining a good “work-life balance” is setting boundaries between the two. It might be refusing to pick up your phone or answer email after a certain time at night, or making it absolutely clear that you are unreachable on your days off.

At a personal level, it may be simple signs and rituals to yourself that you can switch out of “work mode”– taking off your uniform if you have one, changing into comfy pants, or fixing a particular cup of tea when you get home. All of it meant to be signs that this is your time now. It all sets up mental and physical boundaries between your work time and personal time.

Those notions predate the existence of smartphones, though. More and more people today no longer want a “work-life balance” as much as a meshing of the two, where work is comfortable and supportive of their lifestyle rather than simply “the part of life that pays the bills.”

Enabling (and very often complicating) this mesh is the “always on,” ”always connected,” “keep hustling” business mentality that whips the professional and personal together. The professional and personal, instead of sliding with and around each other like a lava lamp, muddle together like a bottle of salad dressing.

The techniques above make that easy enough to avoid when it comes to technology. “No, I’m not doing to read that email. It can wait till Monday.” “The company is big and old enough to look after itself for a couple days.”

What often goes unmentioned is setting those boundaries within your social life.

Making Friends and Maintaining Boundaries

People form connections and bonds through mutually shared experiences, territory, time. The “Mere Exposure Effect” is a psychological phenomenon where people will make preferences based solely on being familiar with them.

In other words, it is almost inevitable that you are going to have people that are part of both your personal and professional social circles. In other words, work friends.

In the public service and culinary fields, with our unusual hours and pressures, this is even more obvious. Who else is gonna “get” why a day in the kitchen sucked more than another cook? Who else is going to “know that feeling” when work obligations encroach on your personal life? Of course you want to keep these people in your life as long as possible- but that can be both a blessing and a curse.

That whole “encroaching on your personal life” should be a big hint. Having someone else in your life who understands you and deals with your same difficulties is an enormous gift- but not if they encourage you to deal with those difficulties poorly. Having a friend who also pulls 80 hour weeks because “That’s the job, right? That’s how we do it!” makes you more likely to ignore your own boundaries- the things you set up to protect your mental health.

This is another way that toxic work culture find its way into our lives- hurting ourselves and our minds for the sake of “being part of the team” and “one of the guys.”

Photo by Kjell Kuehn on

So how to walk the line?

See if you can arrange activities and meet-ups that will let you bond over things that aren’t work related, like mutual hobbies and interests.Hey, I got tickets to see this band we both like!” “Dude, let’s go bowling this weekend!”

You can also bring in friends from outside work- their presence can help keep conversation and topics from circling back to the office, drama, the latest crisis, etc. One of the best ways to keep yourself from being boring (or bored) is to have a variety of hobbies and friends! Otherwise, as my teacher put it, “You’ll be one of those kitchen people, who can only talk about kitchen things, to other kitchen people.”

As in all things, respect is key. Honor your boundaries, ask that your friends respect them (Pro tip: if they give you crap about said boundaries, they aren’t exactly great friends), and encourage each other to look out for yourselves.

Earlier today, I got to go out to lunch with two co-workers, their partners, and my wife. We discussed travel, our cats, and of course food. We were off the clock and just enjoying each others company.

And why not? We were off the clock.

Speaking of being off the clock… I’m going to be taking the next two weeks off from writing this blog! Emily and I will be joining my family in Orlando, and if you can’t tell from my recent entries, a vacation is LONG overdue. I might still be writing stuff on Medium, and I’ll definitely still be posting on Instagram and Twitter, but I’m looking forward to giving my writing-and-baking brain a break.

See you in mid-March, and

Stay Classy,

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